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Obituary: Momoh Taziff Koroma

20 May 2018 at 13:25 | 1729 views

Momoh Taziff Koroma (RIP): The Teacher who Inspired Me and Many Others

By Paul Duwai-Sowa (PDS), Toronto, Canada

May 3, 2018, was a sad day for the family and friends of Momoh Taziff Koroma (aka MTK 1000).

Taziff (photo) was a lecturer in Linguistics at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone. Momoh Taziff Koroma (MTK) was my older brother, Thomas’ classmate and would eventually become a lifelong family friend. I personally got to know him in my teenage years as a bookish hawk who read anything and everything. I admired his quiet demeanour, his pleasantries, humour and above all his insatiable quest for knowledge. Taziff was a wordsmith par excellence and this was not only manifested in his proficiency in English but remarkably in his native tongue, Mende. He had an aptitude for languages and their structures, an expert in pragmatics. I was fascinated at how a son of peasant farmers from the remote fields of Pujehun District in rural Sierra Leone could have had such wit conveyed through the English Language. He must have been possessed by the spirits of English grammar writers like Robert Lowth.

In my teenage years, MTK taught me English and Literature at the prestigious boys’ Catholic School, Christ the King College in Bo. His personal tutoring in those subjects disciplined and encouraged me enough to score 2 in English, 2 in Literature at O’ Levels and a B in Advanced Level Literature. He was everything a good teacher should be - disciplined at times, but funny, brilliant and caring.

Beyond the classroom and tutoring setting, Taziff was a fun guy with the hilarity of a court jester. I remember the story of his first pay cheque just out of university. Taziff did not only spread the cash on his bed to roll on but licked his plate with his tongue to clean the last dot of palm oil from a first meal he could afford on his own for the first time in his life. Everyone who knew Taziff from his days in Pujehun knows this story. It became a familiar anecdote of his many life trajectories.

Momoh Taziff Koroma was not only a brilliant Sierra Leonean scholar; he was an inspiring figure who beat the odds of his village roots to rise to national prominence. His great gift was being able to inspire his students who weren’t necessarily gifted in English grammar or the art of writing. Taziff enfolded thousands of children in his kindness and grace. He was an extraordinary teacher, writer, and kind-hearted soul with a knack for simplicity.

Taziff enjoyed writing. He produced many academic writings and co-authored others including “KRIO-ENGLISH/ENGLISH-KRIO DICTIONARY & PHRASEBOOK”. Taziff also had good listening ears for oral stories and was a gifted translator. You only need to watch “the Ghost of Amistad” to feel his passion and exceptional talent.

Taziff introduced me to Wole Soyinka, Jane Austen, the Japanese writer, Yansunari Kawabata, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the Poet, Dennis Brutus and Shakespeare; authors that inspire and continue to intrigue me. His style of teaching was not only searching but also very passionate and Socratic. My friend, Yatta Fofana (now Mrs. Kanneh) and Sixth Form classmate at Christ the King College and I were always buried in difficult classic poems like “Ulysses” taught by Taziff. We were Taziff’s Pujehun family members in his class and the onus was always on us to represent our home district and do him proud; a real burden I must confess. In the end, Taziff’s way of teaching gave us the zeal to be prepared. I doubt that if he hadn’t taught me English, I would have ever been interested in writing. He was an exemplary figure to me and a dear mentor.

The University of California, Santa Barbara once introduced Momoh Taziff Koroma to their audience as an expert who was “…sought by both domestic and international bodies, including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the UN, in putting the country back together again…worked to canvas public opinion and to develop countrywide workshops on democracy.”

Momoh Taziff Koroma was one of those remarkable rural born children who grew up in a place called No Hope but triumphed over adversity to become a brilliant mind and a decorated citizen. It is a sad irony — but a measure, too, of his humble beginnings and thus the crushing weight of his loss.

This farewell message may not end well if I do not quote the Shakespeare he taught me, and so I say to my friend and mentor, Momoh Taziff Koroma:

Thou know’st ’tis common; all that lives must die,
Passing through nature to eternity.

I join all those mourning with his wife, Hawa and children, and the rest of his family.

Momoh Taziff Koroma will be laid to rest today, Sunday, May 20 in his village, Baoma in Pujehun District where his life began.

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